Two Numbers: Frisbee May Join Bowling, Tug-of-War, in Bids for Olympic Glory

Mario Zucca

At the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece, in 1896, spectators watched 300 top athletes battle for gold in nine sports, including gymnastics, swimming and tennis. While those and a few other sports remain a mainstay of the games, the rest of the Olympic roster has fluctuated on the whims of politics and popularity, with sports like rope climbing, roller hockey and live pigeon shooting dropping out and beach volleyball now a fan favorite.

Being included in the games is "an incredible milestone" for emerging sports, says Robert "Nob" Rauch, president of the World Flying Disc Federation, which this week celebrated its recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), effectively paving the way for Frisbee sports to possibly be played in future Olympic Games.

Being an IOC-recognized sport doesn't automatically mean a shot at Olympic gold, though. Members of the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations can often sit on this list for years without making an Olympic debut. Chess received its IOC recognition in 1999, billiards in 1998, yet neither has ever been played at the international games.

"The IOC, in theory, has to balance a desire to expand the Games with the need to keep them of a manageable size," says Andrew Zimbalist, an Olympics expert and professor of economics at Smith College. "At some point, when new sports grow beyond a certain threshold of popularity, the IOC feels compelled to include them."

Frisbee (or more technically, "flying disc sports") was among the 26 IOC-recognized sports that applied for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo earlier this year, along with American football, bowling, bridge and tug-of-war. That list of 26 was whittled to eight in June. Frisbee didn't make the cut. Sports fans will find out in August 2016 which of the short-listed sports—baseball, bowling, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, surfing and wushu (Chinese martial arts)—will compete.

The number of sports that applied for Tokyo is nearly as many as the number of sports (28) being played at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Core sports can contain multiple disciplines—aquatics, for example, includes swimming and diving, while gymnastics has artistic, rhythmic and trampoline varieties. There are two new additions to next year's games: Golfers from 30 countries will compete for the first time since 1904 , and rugby sevens, a condensed version of rugby, will make its Olympic debut. Rugby was last played at the Olympics in 1924.

Recognition by the IOC does have some benefits, such as additional funding and publicity, but that's not quite the same as an Olympic medal. Professional Ultimate Frisbee player Brodie Smith tells Newsweek that playing in the Olympics "would be the greatest accomplishment of my career, hands down. There is nothing like representing your country and playing with the best athletes in the world," says Smith, who plays for the Chicago Wildfire Ultimate Frisbee team. "Now that dream just became a little closer to a reality."